Social media can be an arena where young people can seek and receive support
The vast majority of young people who have shared difficulties with friends on social media experience support afterwards. This is shown by a study from the Norwegian Institute of Public Health.
This article was published in Norwegian on the 3rd of January 2023.
– The findings show that social media, in addition to a lot of the negative things you might hear, can also be a platform for seeking out and receiving support, says lead author Bjarte Kysnes.
The researchers found that the young people who shared something difficult with friends generally reported having worse mental health than those who had not. Of those who had shared something difficult, most stated that they had received social support afterwards. Furthermore, the young people who experienced social support reported better mental health after sharing compared to those who did not experience social support.
Kysnes emphasises that the findings should not be interpreted as advice to young people to share difficult experiences on social media. He points out that most people who shared something in this study had only shared it with one or a few friends through private messages on social media.
Both girls and boys experienced support
Girls shared something difficult more often than boys, but there were no gender differences in relation to either perceived social support or level of good mental health.
– The findings suggest that social media can function as a social arena and a supportive environment for young people and provide opportunities to share difficult feelings and events. Receiving support through social media can have potential positive effects for mental health and well-being, says Kysnes.
Severity of difficulties unknown
Kysnes emphasises that the study knows nothing about the severity of the difficulties that the young people shared, nor how often or frequently they shared something.
Some studies have shown that frequent sharing is associated with lower levels of good mental health. The researcher believes investigating differences between private sharing and public sharing (status updates, posts, stories etc.) in the context of social support and mental health will be interesting for future research.
– If you share something on social media, you can also experience support outside of social media, face-to-face, afterwards. Parents can keep this in mind when they wonder what their children are doing on their screens, says Kysnes.
About the study
In the study, the researchers examined young people's experiences of sharing something difficult on social media, and how this is connected with perceived social support afterwards and good mental health.
The study is based on the first part of the questionnaire survey "Life on social media" which NIPH, in collaboration with Bergen Municipality and Vestland County, conducted among 2,000 students at upper secondary schools in Bergen in 2020.